June 25, 2006

AT&T. I have no sympathy.

Ed Whitacre, chairman of AT&T, flatly refuses to answer a simple question from Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) to the point of sneering at him. What's completely ridiculous about this stance, and what makes it contemptuous in *my* book, is that there's absolutely no need to dissemble on this point. It is surely publicly verifiable that AT&T has cooperated in a law enforcement wiretap of some kind. That, at this point, is all Senator Specter is asking - "Has AT&T given customer information to law enforcement?" There is no specification that it involves this particular instance. Even if, outside the context of this video clip, there is interplay that makes this questionable, I would point to Senator Specter's clear broadening of the question during this video.

He begins by asking if AT&T makes customer data available to third parties, including the federal government and law enforcement. When that question produces evasions, he narrows it down, reducing it from a question about AT&T's current policy and including 'third parties' to a simple historical question - one which must be answered 'yes' if AT&T has ever participated in a legally-sanctioned wiretap.

Since it is inconceivable (to me, admittedly) that AT&T has never participated in such an action - even one which everyone concerned would find completely proper, such as one with an open and registered warrant request - Whitacre's refusal to answer the question in the affirmative is a flat refusal to cooperate with the inquiries of Specter's committee.

Specter gives him that out - he says 'if you've been directed not to speak about this by the Federal Government, just say so.' That in no way commits Whitacre to admitting that information has been turned over. It makes his continued refusal the Federal Government's problem, rather than his - the only reason that he doesn't cooperate is that either he believes he has been instructed not to cooperate by an authority which supersedes Arlen Specter's, and/or he and his company have been threatened with punitive measures if he cooperates.

If the first is true, we have a problem. Senator Specter is asking him, as an empowered member of the U.S. Congress, to answer a direct question related to the oversight of intelligence activity by the U.S. Goverment. If he believes that his noncooperation has been instructed by a superseding authority, that means that both he and said authority believe it has the ability and right to stonewall Congress to the point of not admitting its existence, much less the information it is trying to protect. This is counter to all notions of checks and balances and to the freedom of American citizens; the ability to verify and examine the laws under which we live is a necessary right to the maintenance of any just enforcement of those laws.

If the second is true, then Mr. Whitacre is a pusillanimous bastard who puts his company's relationship with its profits ahead of the integrity of the United States - or thinks that the conflict in #1 above isn't a problem for the United States' system. Or, at best, it means that an unknown arm of the U.S. Government is not only exerting extreme pressure on its citizens and corporate entities, but doing so in a manner which it is reluctant to even admit is occuring - which should automatically bring into question its legality.

So which is it, Mr. Whitacre? If the only reason you were stonewalling is because that was your lawyers' advice, then both you and your lawyers are (as far as I am concerned) much less concerned about the health of the American civic and legal systems than your own corporate profits - and that needs to be rectified. If you honestly believe that this is information that can and should be kept from the U.S. Congress as it attempts to perform its duty of oversight with regards to government activity, then you don't believe in that system anyway and I think you need to be removed from any position of influence in this system.

This is all made especially ironic by the fact that at least one leg of AT&T's 'defense strategy' involving government-mandated wiretapping is that "even if it's deemed illegal, we've done it before."

Posted by jbz at June 25, 2006 11:16 PM | TrackBack

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